Phobos-Grunt was the chosen one. It was said that it would bring an end to Russia's Martian curse, not extend it. But now, Russia's once-promising spacecraft — the country's first bid at interplanetary exploration in 15 years — is coming home earlier than planned.

Phobos-Grunt — the spacecraft designed to put a lander on the surface of Martian moon Phobos, acquire soil samples from its surface, and return to Earth in 2014 — launched successfully back in early November only to malfunction shortly after launch, leaving it stranded in Earth's orbit. (What caused the malfunction? Nobody is certain, though New Scientist reports that Valdimir Popovkin, head of Russia's space agency, has alluded to foul play on US's part.)

Since then, PG has been spiraling closer and closer to earth. Now, estimates say it will break Earth atmosphere on January 15th. Where and when it will make land(sea?)fall, however, remains something of a mystery. (PG is predicted to crash back to earth somewhere between 51.4 degrees north latitude and 51.4 degrees south latitude. See the blue region in this diagram? Yeah. Somewhere in there.)


Most of the craft is expected to burn up in Earth's atmosphere (much like NASA's UARS satellite, which came hurtling back to Earth back in September), and odds are high that it'll land somewhere that you aren't. Remember: even though 20-30 pieces of debris are predicted to make it to the planet's surface (weighing in at 440 pounds total), Earth is a big place, and most of it is covered in water.


Via Top image is from Michael Carroll's awesome rendering of PG's re-entry. See the full image here. Crashdown prediction video by AGI.